Generation E: Topeka Teens Learn Value of Work

Program teaches entrepreneurial skills and salesmanship to low-income kids.

by Bill Williams

The IBSA, Inc. is trying to show Topeka teens how to be entrepreneurs, and put legitimately earned cash in their pockets.

Lazone Grays, president of IBSA came from the streets. He knows all the teen temptations. In 1991 he started IBSA with the goals of providing better humanitarian services in the areas of social, youth, economic and community development.

Learning Business Principles

IBSA’s income opportunity program instructs enterprising kids between 12 and 16 years old the principles of commissioned, residual and leveraged income. Throughout the years, as many as 20 kids have been in the program at a time. Paid staffers and volunteers instruct the teens by having them sell raffle tickets for things like televisions and grocery shopping sprees, at festivals and fireworks events. The kids also sell greeting cards and calendars during the holiday season.

“They earn a commission of fifty-cents or 50% on each dollar’s worth of raffle tickets sold,” said Grays. “The rest comes back into our general fund.”

Teens can buy the high-quality cards for six dollars and sell them for ten, or if they don’t have the capital investment, they can take orders. The program teaches the kids about money, such as calculating commissions and determining what the organization owes them. In addition, the kids learn communication techniques.

“These are mini sales presentations,” said Grays. “So we want them saying ‘Yes sir’ or ‘Excuse me ma’am’—words they don’t normally use each day.”

Another very important lesson the program teaches is follow up. The kids have to send a thank you letter to customers who have purchased products from them. “This teaches them basic courtesy as well as the concept of follow up,” Grays said.

Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

IBSA hosts group settings where they describe the opportunity, and make sure they educate the teens on sales and the business side. Grays tries to keep the kids thinking. When they set up a booth at a Juneteenth event, which drew 80,000 people to Soldier Park, Grays asked his teen entrepreneurs how they would turn that large group into an opportunity to make money.

“I don’t want them to see large-scale events as a place where they go and buy things,” Grays said. “I want them to see it as an opportunity. They should be able to see a lawn full of leaves and say, ‘Excuse me ma’am would you be interested in someone raking those leaves for you?,’ so they can see opportunity, rather than watch all their peers migrate to McDonald’s or Wendy’s for jobs.”

Some of the kids make $100 a week by selling $200 worth of greeting cards. “They come home with smiles on their faces and money in their hands,” said Grays. One teen made $213 in one weekend on the raffle. Others have made $400 to $500 selling greeting cards. Some teens even have said they made more money working one weekend than working all summer at a fast food restaurant.

“These kids take these skills into later life,” Grays said. “Our top seller in 1995 just graduated from Kansas State University.”

Grays said his program gets the kids to understand the value of money and that if you work you get paid.

Most of the kids come from Central and East Topeka, low to moderate income neighborhoods, and their families may be on public assistance. “We focus on young people living in public housing, where parents might receive public assistance and can’t afford giving their kids an allowance,” said Grays.

Program Reaches Out

IBSA will set up an event on July 4th, targeting their age range. If the kids work this summer, they will have money for school supplies in the fall. And, when they sell the greeting cards they will have money for Christmas presents. Grays along with his staff and volunteers challenge the teens to get on their feet and brainstorm on how to make legitimate dollars on their own.

“The economic status of the household sometimes determines the achievement of the kids inside,” said Grays. “Anything we can do to raise the income level of the home is right in line with our philosophy of providing humanitarian services to those in need.”

For more information, contact Lazone Grays at (785) 422-0761 or

Bill Williams is the managing editor of the Kansas City Small Business Monthly. (1998)


In today’s world, a good paying job and job security is not as common as they were during the booming era’s of agriculture, technological, or the service era which we are experiencing today.

Contrary to popular belief amongst youth and young adults, being an entertainer or athlete is not the occupations that produce the most wealthier individuals in the world. Those who amass large amounts of financial wealth, usually do it by having their own business or product or services. To better illustrate this, ask yourself what do retired athletes and entertainers do?

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